Woe is Me

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We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.
— Carlos Casteneda

I just saw the new film Begin Again. Simple in its plot, but not simplistic in its message, this film explores its two main characters' lives as they go through separate relationship and career crisis' and how their paths intersect to affect each others journeys. The way these two people cope and react to the hurtful actions of those they loved and trusted who betrayed them, lead both to discover how hard challenges can either debilitate or empower you, leaving you to either self destruct or reinvent yourself.

Both the film's tagline: "You're only as strong as your next move" and a lyric from its song "Lost Stars": "Woe is me, if we're not careful turns into reality" support this notion of your destiny being dictated by what you do NOW; and your survival being determined by your ability to rise up in the face of adversity.

If you find yourself the victim of someone else's cruelty, betrayal, insensitivity, obliviousness, or just plain selfishness... then what? What do you do? How do you react? Do you sulk, beat yourself up, get depressed, drown your sorrows, deny your pain? Or do you go over and over in your mind what you could have done differently to make things turn out, well... different?

It's an interesting question: How responsible are we for the poor treatment that others inflict on us and for the undesirable things that occur in our lives?

With the exception of those specific times where others screw us over because they are just evil or severely flawed beyond hope, there are very few things that just happen to us without some sort of direct involvement by us.

As our feelings guide our behavior, our behavior affects our choices, and our choices lead to outcomes that we either welcome or regret. And when an outcome befalls us that we aren't so thrilled about, one that we wish would just not be true, very often we find ourselves in a state of disbelief, stepping up to inhabit the role of the victim who must now unwittingly suffer the consequences of an unfair result. A result that we believe (or want to believe) we had no responsibility for causing or made no contribution to making happen.

Even though I try to subscribe to the adage "Don't look back - you're not going that way," I still believe it is useful to recognize and reflect on your past behavior at times if the goal is to learn from your mistakes and grow as a person. So what would it look like for you to sincerely ask yourself if you can see the paths taken that may have led you to the places you wished you hadn't arrived? If you're really honest with yourself, you probably could retrace some distinct and obvious choices you made that steered things toward the results you didn't know you would get and might not have wanted, but nevertheless ultimately had to face.

It's tempting to place more blame on the other people involved, and there are probably times that that is warranted (like in the cases of the aforementioned evil and flawed). But usually, everyone is responsible, as people will do what they do, people will act as they act, and we all will interact and react to each other in ways we sometimes would never have expected. And as much as we wish we could, we do not have the power to predict or control other peoples' behavior. All we really can do is know what we want, follow our hearts, be who we are, and then be mindful in managing how we allow others' behavior, and their reactions, to affect us. But above all, if nothing else, the most important thing to do is not let the respect you have for yourself be tainted by the disrespect others' display toward you. 

When suffering a great loss, or even simply coming to the realization that things are not what they seemed or what we expected or wanted them to be, you often feel like you just have to start over, move forward as if from scratch, often adopting an attitude of powerlessness and a feeling that things are now suddenly going in this new direction and you have to just accept it and get used to it with no choice in the matter.

This idea and even the simple phrase of "starting over" always seems to have a kind of negative connotation to it.  Sure, that may be the appropriate overtone for it when, to put it very plainly, things just suck at the moment. But it is a disservice to yourself to look at your circumstances as just something you must suffer through. Instead, I would rather you look at it as an opportunity. A chance to improve things, to make things better for the future. If your circumstances are leading you to a major change in your life - the proverbial fork in the road - you will be much better off approaching it with an equal dose of resilience and fortitude rather than with victimization and defeatism.

So don't merely start over, begrudgingly, weary and war torn from a battle not won. Instead, do your best to begin again, wholly and purposefully, with the knowledge you've gained, the lessons you've learned, and the strength you've developed as you weathered the storm. You are not starting from scratch. You are moving forward with courage, perseverance and hope to forge a new path and find an alternate reality that works for you; one that just may suit you better and lead you to a more fulfilling life than you could have ever imagined.

 

*POSTSCRIPT: When I wrote this post in the summer of 2014, I was in the midst of dealing with issues in my life that I didn't quite know how to process - some in relation to conflicts of my own, and some pertaining to family members and the tough times they were going through - all of which were affecting me greatly. And although I have learned over the years not to run away from difficult feelings, I also know that sometimes you just need to take a break, stop thinking, and let life play out a little bit. Sometimes you need to get out of your own way and trust that the answer will come to you. At least, that is the hope.
So I took a break. I escaped... and went to the movies. This is something I did a lot in my youth, most often to deal (or not deal) with the drama of my parents' strained marriage and eventual divorce. I believe it's what ultimately began my love affair with filmmaking, and what eventually led me to major in film when I went off to college.
Now a full grown adult with kids of her own, I felt more like the teenager I once was as I headed off to the movie theatre alone - to escape into a film, get lost in someone else's story, and avoid my own reality for a couple of hours. 
I didn't care if I was avoiding. I didn't care if what I was doing was immature. I didn't feel like behaving like the emotionally healthy grown-up I usually aspire to be - one that faces her problems head on and doesn't run away. All I could think was, "SCREW THAT. Just let me escape for a bit. I need this."
I knew nothing about the movie I chose to disappear into that day, except that it starred Mark Ruffalo and was about music. That was more than enough to sell me. The message I took away from the film was exactly the one I needed to hear at that time. I was inspired and I knew I wanted to write about it, especially in relation to my circumstances; but I wasn't sure how to do so without revealing too much of other people's business or betraying certain confidences.
So I decided to approach it in a more detached, analytical manner, drawing on my years as a film student who wrote a ton of film theory essays and term papers. To earn my BA in Film Studies, I had to watch, study, and read about films constantly, finding in them both the obvious and hidden metaphors for real life; as well as write commentary and theoretical papers analyzing narrative structure, sociological messages and themes.
I LOVED THIS. Writing those essays and term papers was my absolute favorite part of film school. As such, it's no surprise to me why I no longer work in the film industry and instead am now a writer.
So although I don't specifically mention in this post how it all relates to me and what I was dealing with at the time, I was writing it to myself just as much as I was to others that may need to hear the message.